MPs demand biofuels policy is put on hold

Government measures to promote the production and use of biofuels are "reckless" and must be scrapped because they may do more harm than good to the planet, according to MPs

Ministers were accused of pushing the 'green' alternative without first ensuring production would not destroy rainforests, cause food shortages in poor countries and pollute waterways. The environmental audit committee said an immediate moratorium should be imposed on the "expensive and inefficient" climate change policy in favour of more sustainable alternatives.

Biofuels are derived from plant materials and can be sourced from a range of products such as sugar beet and wheat and produce less harmful emissions when used to power road vehicles.

Transport accounts for a quarter of the UK's greenhouse gases and the government has boosted biofuels as a solution by cutting duty and forcing suppliers to ensure at least 5 per cent of sales are from renewable sources through the Road Transport Fuel Obligation, which comes into force in April.

But critics complain the approach ignores leading scientists' warnings that some methods of producing biofuels mean their overall impact can be worse than using fossil fuels.

Energy used in growing, harvesting, transporting and processing the crops, the destruction of natural habitats and "carbon sinks" such as forests and the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers are among the negative impacts they identifed.

The committee also concluded current biofuels were unlikely to improve fuel security, that agricultural support for them was "largely unsustainable" and that they would push up food prices.

The recently published European Union's Renewables Directive sets out targets for the use of biofuels. EU officials signalled last week that their position on biofuels was being revised in the light of the latest scientific evidence.

In its report, the committee concluded: "Biofuels standards should be changed to ensure that support is given only to those that deliver environmental improvements over fossil fuels in terms of not only greenhouse gas emission reductions but also wider impacts.

"In the absence of such standards the government and EU has moved too quickly to stimulate the use of biofuels. Until they are developed the government should place a moratorium on policies aimed at increasing the use of biofuels.

"Transport biofuels have received disproportionate attention and funding in comparison to other policies which could reduce greenhouse gas emissions at lower environmental risk and lower cost."

It said the biofuels strategy was "a clear example of failure to co-ordinate climate change policy" and would "jeopardise the government's stated aim to "secure a healthy natural environment for today and the future".

"A long-term climate change policy framework should be developed to eliminate misguided or harmful policies, such as current biofuels policy, and to ensure that emissions are reduced in an effective and efficient manner across the whole economy," it suggested.

It went on: "Stimulation of biofuels production by the government and EU is reckless in the absence of effective mechanisms to prevent the destruction of carbon sinks internationally."

Image: Some methods of producing biofuels could have a greater environmental impact than using fossil fuels

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